Animal Legal Defense Fund Urges Support of House Bill to Restore Animal Welfare Act

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — (Marketwire) — 12/20/12 — The national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is applauding and urging support for a House bill introduced today by Congressman Gerald Connolly (D-VA) of the House of Representatives Animal Protection Caucus to restore the original scope of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This bill would reverse a Senate amendment to the 2002 Farm Bill pushed through by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), which gutted the AWA and removed protection for 95% of animals used in research. Rep. Connolly’s new bill would return protections for rats, mice, and birds, as the bipartisan framers of the AWA intended.

In 1970, Congress voted to cover all “warm-blooded animals” under the AWA. Yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency charged with enforcing the AWA, excluded rats, mice and birds — the vast majority of animals used in research — from protection. In 1990, ALDF initiated a successful 10-year court battle to restore the original Congressional intent of the law. However, language slipped in to the 2002 Farm Bill excluded “mice, rats and birds bred for research” from protection as “animals.” Helms’ amendment was adopted in conference and the House of Representatives never saw it.

Modern science has established that birds, mice, and rats are sentient: capable of experiencing pain, fear, distress, and joy. Recent studies show mice feel pain individually and for others. Yet current AWA exclusions mean researchers are not obligated to consider any alternatives to the unnecessary suffering of these animals. The passage of Connolly’s bill would harmonize with the National Institutes of Health’s voluntary industry standards on considering alternatives to, and minimization of, animal pain in testing as well as with the National Research Council’s encouragement of humane research. Without such oversight, during hurricane Sandy, researchers at New York University did not plan how to properly house mice, resulting in massive loss of life and valuable research. This bill would help to avoid research losses and chiefly impact only researchers who do not already comply with these guidelines.

“Hundreds of millions of animals are tested upon without any federal protection or relief from excruciating pain,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of ALDF. “How can the Animal Welfare Act exclude 95% of research animals? It is time for us to join together to legally protect animals used in research, as was Congress’ original intent.”